Japanese researchers tested a vaccine in mice that appeared to prevent the buildup of zombie cells, scientifically known as senescent cells, which are commonly associated with aging and several diseases. While it might be exaggeration to call this development an âold age vaccine,â the vaccine could potentially prove useful for the prevention of certain age-related diseases.
Senescent cells are normal cells that have stopped multiplying but do not die. Instead, they stay like “undead zombies” and release chemicals that can trigger inflammation in surrounding healthy cells. Senescence can be caused by a number of factors, including the general wear and tear of the cell’s genetic material that occurs with each successive division, as well as greater damage to DNA. A 2011 study found that removing these senescent cells delays age-related diseases and subsequent studies confirmed that their removal can relieve, and possibly prevent, some diseases.
As reported in the journal Natural aging, scientists at Juntendo University in Tokyo, sought to remedy this problem by developing a vaccine that prevents senescent cells from building up.
Researchers have identified a protein found in senescent cells of humans and mice. They then used this information to create a peptide vaccine that triggers an immune response against the protein. Much like a vaccine against a virus or bacteria, the vaccine will “train” the body’s immune system to create antibodies that will recognize a specific antigen on the protein of senescent cells and eliminate them.
To test the vaccine, the team conducted an experiment in mice with arteriosclerosis, a thickening and hardening of the artery walls often seen in the elderly. Not only did the vaccine improve arteriosclerosis in mice, but the study’s conclusion also explained that it improved “normal and pathological aging in elderly mice and prolonged the lifespan of mice with premature aging” .
“We can expect (the vaccine) to be applied to the treatment of arterial stiffening, diabetes and other diseases related to aging,” said Professor Toru Minamino, author of the study at Juntendo University Graduate School. of Medicine. the Japan Times.
Again, however, it would be naÃ¯ve to think that this vaccine could be the foundation for eternal youth. First, research is still in its early stages and the vaccine has only been done in mice. Second, cell senescence is not the only one mark of aging. Along with the build-up of “zombie cells”, older people will also experience telomere shortening, genome instability, epigenetic alterations, depletion of stem cells and other biochemical signs of aging. Senescent cells are therefore only part of the puzzle.